Monday, June 18, 2018

Why I Quit Breastfeeding

I know what you're thinking. What does breastfeeding have to do with running and why am I writing about it on a running blog? Well, running and breastfeeding have something in common - they require my body and require effort. And I never knew until I started my journey into motherhood that they actually impact one another. Also I know that a lot of my readers are women, some are mothers, some may be mothers some day. Perhaps you might appreciate my insight and learning about my journey. But really, I need to write about this topic, use my blog as an outlet, and document how I am feeling today. I need to do this for me.

My daughter is now 8 months old and thriving. She is crawling, standing, babbling, and showcasing her hilarious sense of humour. Our 8 months together have been blissful, but challenging. Nobody can possibly prepare you for the challenges that you'll face in parenthood. I never realized how hard breastfeeding would be. I thought about it before and couldn't understand why women struggled with it and almost dismissed breastfeeding struggle with a "so what?" shrug. I just didn't get it until I was neck deep in the struggle, wondering if I would drown. It almost broke me on several occasions. It was the hardest part of parenthood so far. Why? Because I couldn't do it. Well I could, but only a little.

I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I was failing at a basic function of motherhood. I was not able to do what was "best" for my baby. Sure I had a lot of factors that were working against me. My late start at breastfeeding when my daughter was getting phototherapy for her jaundice after birth didn't help. My age and health history didn't help. And other things I won't get into here, they also didn't help. I had a lot going against me. I tried everything from seeing a lactation consultant, prescription medication, power pumping, expensive herbal supplements, lactation smoothies, lactation cookies, lactation blah blah blah.... nothing worked. Well, the medication helped a little but I never got to a place where I could breastfeed exclusively. I felt good knowing that she was getting some milk, but the rest of her sustenance had to come from formula and I had to be OK with that. I had to remind myself daily that my body didn't fail. It made the best thing in the world that I have - my precious daughter. I am no less a mom.

So yes, my girl was being fed and growing, and developing, and being amazing. In my head, I knew and know today that the fact that she's being fed is all that matters. But every time I made her formula, my pride and ego would take a hit. I felt guilt or wondered if there was something I could have done differently or better so she could get her nourishment from me. Or I'd feel good about our journey and then go out to a mommy and baby activity and see other women so effortlessly breastfeed their child, while I had to deal with mixing formula and heating a bottle to the right temperature for my babe. I would feel shame and imagine judging eyes on me. I know now that it's all in my head. Maybe the looks were just out of curiosity or admiration. I was feeding my baby and being the best mom I could be.

My attitude changed when my baby turned 6 months. I finally realized that she was fine despite our challenged journey. I made it to 6 months and felt so proud of myself. While I in no means achieved exclusive breastfeeding, I was able to provide about 1/2 of her nutrition for 6 months. I realized, though, that there was a cost to me, and I had to do something to back off and be kinder to me. We started to change our feeding relationship, only nursing in the morning and I pumped the rest of the day. It was lovely to still have that bonding in the morning that only nursing can give. However, it proved difficult to maintain that routine when we went on our family vacation to Maui. With the time difference, her feeding schedule and my production schedule didn't seem to sync up nicely anymore, so we moved to pumping throughout the day. This included pumping on the plane and in the passenger seat of the rental car, in order to keep with my schedule. The last time I nursed her was in bed in Maui one morning at around 5am, and it was one of our most lovely experiences with this relationship. I will always remember that time fondly and I am at peace with that being our last session.

Pumping for your baby is no joke though. Every half hour spent connected to a machine means time you can't parent fully. You can simply put your baby somewhere safe and engage with her at a distance. When you have an active baby who wants to hang out and play, this can be hard to achieve. You have to sing when she starts to cry, ignore her when she's clearly pooped her diaper or is asking for something you can't provide, all the while try to relax so your milk will flow. Then when you make plans for your day but realize that you're approaching the deadline to pump (or be uncomfortable), you cut your perfectly good outing short to come home. Despite these challenges, I continued this routine for 2 months.

I would have continued to do this right until I returned to work, perhaps, but I had a scare about a week ago. I have been on prescription medication from the beginning, and apparently the effects of the medication can be multiplied if you eat grapefruit. I have been avoiding the fruit although it's one of my absolute favourites (I consumed it daily when pregnant - no joke). I accidentally ate some when visiting a family member who made a beautiful salad and this resulted in frequent heart palpitations for two days. I made an appointment with my doctor and she reassured me that my heart was OK, but this might be a good time to consider weaning. At 8 months, my daughter is a champion eater and will rely less and less on milk over the coming months. If I have to take drugs that can impact my heart to feed her, is it worth it? I think not. So we've started the process and so far so good. Well, except for the mood swings and meltdowns (on my part). I am almost there.

It hasn't been easy to make that decision. Breastfeeding might seem trivial to those who haven't embarked on the journey. It certainly did to me, admittedly, until I became a mom and the challenge hit me square in the face. I think the reasons why the journey is so challenging if it doesn't go according to plan is twofold: (1) we want the very best for our babies and breastmilk is excellent nutrition and full of a mother's antibodies to help baby develop their immune system and (2) after growing a baby in our bodies for 9 months and then giving birth, breastfeeding is the one remaining way of keeping our bodies connected. My daughter is literally part of me.

I have many helpful mommy friends who have said the right thing at the right time to help me through this journey. I hope you read this and see how much your support has helped me. To my dear friend who couldn't breastfeed and chose to exclusively formula feed, thank you for helping me understand from the very beginning that "fed is best" and that formula is wonderful nutrition for a perfectly healthy baby. I thought of her and her beautiful son every time I struggled with preparing formula for my girl. My sister-in-law who was able to breastfeed her three babies (perhaps with struggle of her own that I don't know about) reminded me that breastfeeding is not better than combo feeding or formula feeding. It's simply different. And my best friend who is a mother to three as well told me that even though I could only feed my daughter partially for 8 months, my effort to do the best for her was the furthest thing from partial. Thank you!

So I suppose saying that I "quit" is too harsh a comment. I made a choice and one that is right for me, and as a result, best for my child. Quitting suggests that adequate effort wasn't put forward. It connotes that perhaps I should have tried harder. Although sometimes my heart pangs with these inaccurate sentiments, my mind knows better and tries to correct it. I indeed tried and tried harder at this than almost anything in my life. And that says a lot since you know me, my work ethic, and my journey to become a runner. Don't tell me there's something I can't do, because I will do everything in my power to prove you wrong.

What does this journey have to do with running? Everything, really. Imagine my breastfeeding journey as a race, an extra-grueling, ultra-marathon, with absolutely no finish line in sight. During the race there are sleepless nights, physical pain, and a young child who you love more than anything needing you, begging for you, but you're not able to be there for them, because you're busy running a race. And it's not like you're winning the race; you're somewhere in the back of the pack, struggling to hang on, wondering if you're going to finish last. It's no wonder that 8 months into this race, I would want to start walking, or perhaps, take a seat on the curb for a while. Or call someone to tell them to pick me up and take me home. And tell me it's OK not to "finish" because my journey had already been admirable enough. Scoring a "DNF" in this journey (Did Not Finish) is too harsh here because I believe that the part of this race I completed had a very positive impact on my daughter's health, and it's an accomplishment I should feel proud of. Someday I will be ready to be proud of myself, fully.

And soon, my body will be entirely free of this, my hormone balance will regulate again, and certain characteristics of the woman and the runner I was before I became a mother will return. I will not be the same, nor do I have any desire to "get my body back" (I never lost it!), but I do expect that over time, having a balance in hormones will allow some changes back to what's familiar. It will allow me to lose that last bit of "baby weight" I haven't been able to as the body hangs onto fat stores in order to make milk. No, breastfeeding isn't the miracle way to lose weight folks. That is a lie (at least it isn't true for every woman). My body will still have a different shape and evidence that it housed a baby at one point, and that's OK with me. I've never had flat abs anyway, so why stress about something unattainable, and frankly, entirely unimportant. But losing weight will help me as a runner, both because it'll put less stress on my joints, and because I will be able to go a bit faster than I can now. I am most excited about relaxin working its way out of my body, the hormone that allows the body to change shape to accommodate and birth a child. It's likely what was responsible, in some way, for my knee sprain that benched me for 6 weeks. I have heard from other mother runners that after they stopped breastfeeding, their joints gradually began to feel stronger and more stable again.

But it'll also free me up from something that has been so hard on me emotionally and taken up so much of my time. I know longer have to schedule pump sessions and factor that in as something to do before any scheduled run. With my mind freed of this burden, running will just be so much better!

We did indeed reach the finish line!

My daughter crawling across the finish line at our local track.
So there you have it - I hope you have appreciated my candor here. I have appreciated all the positive comments, private messages, and emails I receive about my blog posts where I speak about such personal topics. Thank you for being an audience and a support.